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Controversy as Buhari again mulls private UK visit

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President Muhammadu Buhari (left); Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu (second right); Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Police Affairs, Maurice Mbaeri (right) and others at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport,  Abuja during the departure of the president for the Economic Forum of the Future Initiative in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia …yesterday.

• Stakeholders condemn secrecy, say taxpayers deserve an explanation
• The only healthy president can deliver purposeful leadership, ACF insists

Both condemnation and justification yesterday trailed the official disclosure that President Muhammadu Buhari would again travel to the United Kingdom on a private visit.

“President Muhammadu Buhari will on Saturday, November 2, 2019, proceed to the United Kingdom on a private visit. He is expected to return to Nigeria on November 17, 2019,” said Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity Femi Adesina in a statement.

The president, meanwhile, left the country yesterday on an official trip to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to attend the Economic Forum of the Future Investment Initiative (FII) in Riyadh. On the sidelines of the event, he will hold bilateral talks with His Majesty King Salman and His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan.

There has been no official announcement on what the private visit entails. Similar trips in the past, however, had stirred animated discussions about the state of the president’s health.

On June 6, 2016, Buhari left Nigeria for his first medical vacation. He took a 10-day trip to London to treat an ear infection and extended the mission by three days for more rest. He returned on June 19, 2016. On January 19, 2017, he again travelled to the U.K. on medical leave and returned March 10 after spending 51 days out of the country. Forty days after (May 8, 2017), Buhari travelled to the U.K. yet again for medical attention and remained there till August 19, 2017.

In defence of the private journey, the national chairman of United Peoples Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, said although it was not called a medical trip, “the president is entitled to rest.” He said Buhari had been working very closely with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, hence his absence, as at other times, would not affect governance.

Also, Dr. Alfred Mulade, secretary-general of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), said he was “not in any way against the travel of Mr. President, as long as it does not have an adverse effect on governance.”

He said: “We don’t think it will shut down governance. Normally, when a president is travelling, there will be a transfer of responsibility. The man already has his ministers in place that is working. So, if he is travelling for a few days and comes back, I don’t think that will affect governance for now.”

But the president, Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni (MOSOP), Legborsi Pyagbara, held a different view. According to him, “Whether it is medical or any form of travel, it is still Nigerian taxpayers that are bearing the cost. That is the challenge that we have because nobody is telling us whether is he going for medical treatment.”

Pyagbara said: “If he is going on a private visit, it should be during his holiday. Anything outside that, it means it is an official travel, no matter how they try to package it. And the cost is on the Nigerian state. That is why they owe a duty to tell us why the president is travelling.”

The deputy national publicity secretary of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Mazi Chuks Ibegbu, said the country’s founding fathers didn’t travel much but achieved a lot for their people. “The solution to our problems is with us. Michael Okpara, Obafemi Awolowo and Ahmadu Bello were not globetrotting. If it’s for health reasons that he is travelling to London again, fine, but why can’t they put our hospitals in order, why?”

The president of Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazurike, said it smacked of “hypocrisy” that after closing the borders to foreign imports, the president should travel abroad for holidays and medical checkup.

“Whichever way we see it, it is a bad policy. No foreign leader comes to Nigeria for checkup or holiday. Honesty is said to be the best policy but why can our government not be forthright about the man who symbolises our nation? Anyone can be sick but it sparks off a furious debacle anytime the president travels for undisclosed purposes.

“Why can’t the government equip our hospitals so that neither the president nor his wife will be seeking medical attention abroad? As it is today, the first family has by conduct has shown that we do not have proper medical facilities in Nigeria.”

The executive director of the Civil Liberties Organisation, Mr. Ibuchukwu Ezike, faulted the secrecy surrounding the visit. “I have continued to ask questions on the kind of visit that should take this length of time. If he is sick, they should tell us, and if he is sick, why would he need to travel abroad? Why not stay here and be treated? Thus, he will understand the challenges faced by the health sector. It is unfortunate.”

But the Secretary-General of Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF), Elder Anthony Sani, argued that only a healthy president could deliver purposeful leadership. According to him, “It is unthinking of anybody to suggest that Nigeria should not provide maximum medical care for the president.”

But the president of Arewa Youth for Development and Progress (AYDP), Comrade Danjuma Sarki, sought to know what impact Buhari’s travels had made on the nation.

“The Federal Government led by President Buhari has so much embarked on wasteful overseas trips that have not added value to national growth. The cost of these journeys is enormous. No country can invest in Nigeria’s economy because of the instability and security challenges. Instead of our president to stabilise the economy and face the security challenges, he is busy travelling abroad always. Things are not done this way,” Sarki said.

The national publicity secretary of the Middle Belt Leaders Forum, Dr. Dogo Isuwa, maintained that like trips to other nations, Nigerians have a right to know why Buhari is visiting London. “It is a common problem with public officers in Nigeria to conceal their state of health. I, therefore, put the challenge to the media to investigate what the president is travelling to London for, if the government refuses to disclose it.”

A chieftain of Afenifere, Dr. Femi Okurounmu, regretted: “It has become a custom with this government to conceal the state of health of Buhari. Unfortunately, those who are supposed to react are not saying anything.” He urged legal practitioners and civil rights groups to speak against the trend.

The national secretary, Yoruba Council of Elders, Dr. Kunle Olajide, complained: “It is particularly worrisome that taxpayers’ money is being spent to attend to the state of health of a president whose ailment is never disclosed.”

But the president of Yoruba Ronu, Mr. Akin Malaolu, said it was too early for the public to start reacting to Buhari’s planned trip to London since the government had not made any disclosure on it. He noted that the president’s recent trips to Russia yielded results as debts were written off for African nations and Nigeria. He also spoke optimistically about the president’s visit to Saudi Arabia, urging people to be patient with the government.

Meanwhile, a consultant surgeon and the Medical director of Optimal Specialist Hospital, Surulere Lagos, Dr. Ugochukwu Chukwunenye, yesterday explained some of the risks associated with long-distance flights.

“In the elderly, because there is already a delicate balance of their various vital systems, the deleterious effects of long-distance flying are more pronounced and become worse if the long-distance flying is frequent. The effects of long-distance flying are worsened if there are pre-existing illnesses like leg ulcers, hearing or memory impairment, chronic lung or cardiac diseases.”


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